The laser cannon
The US military and lasers have a complex history: the 'Star Wars' defence plan was essentially scrapped because it didn't work, paving the way for missile shields but military chiefs clearly went home, put on episodes of Star Trek and refused to let the idea of laser canons on their vehicles die.
Proving that one day captains of US military aircraft will be able to say "Lock phasers on target", the US military this weekend successfully blew up a sea-launched liquid-fueled ballistic missile with an airborne laser weapon.
The 'laser canon' was mounted aboard a Boeing 747-400F and shot "directed energy" from the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB), consisting of a Northrop Grumman higher-energy laser and a Lockheed Martin beam-and-fire control system."
In layman's terms, the laser canon used a low energy laser to target the missile while a megawatt-class laser locked onto that missile, "heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure."
Real world applications
While this writer loves the idea of laser-weaponry, mainly through watching Star Wars too many times, the real-world implications of this test is far reaching. It now means that the US military has the potential to be able to target and destroy multiple targets at the speed of light and at a range of hundreds of kilometers.
In a statement, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.
"The Missile Defense Agency demonstrated the potential use of directed energy to defend against ballistic missiles when the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) successfully destroyed a boosting ballistic missile," the agency said.
"The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense."
Cost is one of primary importance to the military as lasers are much cheaper than other technologies used to defeat missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Not just that, but the strength of lasers can be altered to allow for potentially non-lethal strikes.
The experiment marks the first time a laser weapon has destroyed a ballistic missile and the first time any system has accomplished it in the missile's boost phase of flight.
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